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Looking for a Tenenbaum House of Their Own

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If reading The Hunt stokes your deepest hopes that someday everything in life could work out, then you, too, are obsessed with the New York Times Sunday Real Estate section. Join us as we venture into the depths of this weekend's installment.

Xavier Joly and Emelie Johnson were so taken with the movie "The Royal Tenenbaums" that they decided finding a house like the one in the movie in Harlem was for them. So they ventured on a hunt through Harlem (with a brief stop in Brooklyn) looking for an ideal home which could house a potential future family and have all the old charms of the Tenenbaum house. Luckily for them a corner house in Hamiton Heights was waiting. Go Mordecai!

-With a budget of around $1 million for a house, Mr. Joly focused enthusiastically on what he called “the magic square” in Harlem, between 110th and 125th Streets, and Morningside Park and Lenox Avenue. -“I think Xavier likes exceptional things, and a house in Manhattan is kind of exceptional. He loved the idea of Harlem giving you a $300-a-square-foot price,” a far better deal than many other places on the island.

-They liked a four-story house on West 120th Street, but four tenants were in place, and it was unclear what their status was. The house ended up selling, vacant, for $899,000.

-They looked at a house on West 121st Street whose upper floors had been chopped into apartments. They were planning to make an offer when the house sold to an all-cash buyer for $1.15 million. “Good products like that left the market quickly,” Mr. Joly said.

-By late summer, the couple felt there was nothing suitable in Harlem, so they took a detour to Brooklyn. A four-story house in Bedford-Stuyvesant was fully renovated, with a rental unit downstairs. The listing price was almost $1.2 million.

-The house was appraised at just $700,000, Mr. Joly said, but “the seller argued that the comps used were not the right ones.” The couple made a halfhearted bid of $1.1 million. Negotiations stalled. The couple were secretly relieved. “The house was beautifully renovated,” Ms. Johnson said, “but it was kind of soulless.” Besides, Brooklyn seemed a long subway ride away.

-The house was later listed at $995,000 and is now off the market.

-Back in Upper Manhattan, they were unimpressed by an East Harlem house stripped of all interior detail, but the agent there mentioned a place for sale on 141st Street, northeast of City College. The listing price of $1.3 million was above their budget and the location was north of the magic square.

-They walked over to see it and found a lovely corner house, 20 feet wide, in the Hamilton Heights Historic District. The main door had a “kind of oxidized panel that was a green color and I loved it,” Ms. Johnson said. “Those small details made me open my eyes wider.” Upon entering, “you are just sort of punched with the greatness of the house.”

-“Right away, we felt it was just what we were looking for,” Mr. Joly said. They were surprised but thrilled when their $1.1 million offer was accepted.

In the Footsteps of Hamiltons and Tenenbaums [NYT]